Six Guidelines for Successful Cover Letters

By Wendy Lalli

Career counselors often use advertising terminology when talking about the activities of a job search. For example, they’ll refer to your resume as “your ad” and encourage you to develop a brief oral presentation about your experience referred to as your “elevator speech” or “commercial.”  This is completely understandable because a job search does involve successfully “selling” your skills and experience to employers.

Cover letters are part of that process and by applying six principles of direct marketing, you can significantly increase they success rate of this important job search tool. Consider these guidelines for creating cover letters that will help “sell” your skill sets more successfully throughout your career

Personalize the Salutation

Cover letters, like the best direct response communications, should always be personalized. Using a salutation such as “Sir or Madam” is nothing short of rude.  So how do you find a person you can write to about a particular job? Here are some suggestions that should help:

If you know the name of the company, address the letter to one of these people:

  • the head of the marketing department


  • the head of the HR department

You should be able to find this information through a little research on LinkedIn and Google.

Or try calling the company and asking the names of these people from whoever answers the phone.

If it’s a smaller company with no marketing head or HR department:

  • write to the company owner who should be listed on the web site.

If the job description has been placed by a recruiter and you can’t tell who the company is:

  • Address it to “Dear Hiring Manager.” (Sometimes a generic saluation is the only option.)

TIP 1:  Use Mr. or Ms. and the person’s last name. Yes, it’s a little formal but it also avoids coming across as presumptious and adds a touch of class to your communication.

TIP 2: Check your spelling. Look at the Web site or the person’s LinkedIn profile to make sure you’ve spelled it right. (Nothing is more annoying than someone asking for an interview who can’t even spell your name.)

TIP 3:  If you’re sending out more than one letter or email at a time, double check that your salutation is correct. Sending a letter to the Creative Director of ABC company that bears the name of the Creative Director from DEF company will probably end in the waste paper basket as soon as its opened.

Make sure to mention the product in the first paragraph.

In this case, the product isn’t you per se, but your suitability to fill the job that’s been posted. Mention the job title (or code number), the posting date and where you saw the posting in the first paragraph.

Remember, companies and recruiters may post different jobs at the same time. Make it as easy as possible for the poster to see which job you’re applying for so they read the your letter in the right context from the beginning.

State the product benefits quickly, simply and clearly.

Summarize just how your experience relates directly to the job you’re applying for.

This is assuming that your resume closely fits the job description. But even if it doesn’t do so,

briefly explain why you feel your knowledge, talents and abilities make you a good candidate for the position.

Close with a call to action.

Ask for a face-to-face interview. This indicates the depth of your interest and encourages the poster to act on your application as soon as possible.

Make it easy for the target market to respond.

Include your email address and phone number. Again, make it as easy as possible for the poster to complete this process by calling you in for an interview.

End with a “thank you” for considering your offer.

It’s the polite thing to do and shows that you’re considerate of others.

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